It's been under two weeks since I returned home from SXSW '09 Interactive and I'm only just now recovering …. Recovering from 6 of the best days I've ever had in my life.
As I predicted, my first year at this conference was all about the people. Of the hundreds of panels I could've attended, I only saw four. And I don't feel even slightly bad about it.
My dime, my agenda. If my employer ponies up the fundage for future conferences, panels and education will be a higher priority.
I will say, though, the panels I did attend were excellent. And I will be posting recap articles of those in the coming days.
This article, however, is a mini-diary of my escapades, the people I met and the places I went. I suspect it could be quite boring for most folks, but since this is my blog, I get to do whatever the hell I want. And I wanted to document it all, for myself, because I'm already forgetting the little details.
Thursday, March 12
I left good old Albuquerque at the buttcrack of dawn to catch a flight to El Paso. Thanks to Jason Nakai, who served as my chauffeur, I made it to the airport on time despite the fact that I was still packing when he showed up.
Flights were uneventful, but I was able to enjoy a bit of nostalgic fun playing on an old arcade-style Star Wars video game at the El Paso airport.
Catching Up With My WJS Peeps
Shortly after my arrival at the Austin airport, I called my dear friend Chris Harrison, who drove with another friend, Phil Rundle, from Augusta to Austin. They picked me up from the airport, and then I managed to get them lost en route into the city.
It was so great to see both Chris and Phil, who I had met at last year's Webmaster Jam Session. Chris is like a brother to me. Always looking out for me, always supportive. And I had missed him terribly since I'd last seen him. Email and chat only go so far in terms of keeping in touch.
The three of us took advantage of free beer at his hotel that evening, and then mosied on over to the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill for a fabulous meal with some fabulous people.
Dinner at Moonshine
Dinner at Moonshine with John Croston, Matthew Oliphant, Lauren Westrup, Erin Morrill and Paul Sherman
Thanks to Chris, I had signed up for the "exclusive" dinner at Moonshine. In fact, thanks to Chris for all of the events I attended, as he kept me posted on the various goings-on.
Before the meal, I got a chance to talk briefly with the talented designer and ExpressionEngine developer, Lea Alcantara. I also met her gloriously tattooed friend, Beth Dean (who I later ran into at almost every event I attended during the conference).
During the meal, I sat next to Matthew Oliphant who not only has awesome taste in eyewear (yeah, that is probably getting old, isn't it Matt?), but also has a great sense of humor. Also at our table were two intelligent, witty and charming gals, Lauren Westrup and Erin Morrill. And tying it all up in a nice bow was John Croston and Paul Sherman.
We talked usability, accessibility and design. We talked Austin. We talked food and wine. It was great. I'm so lucky I was able to reserve a spot.
After Moonshine, I headed over to Buffalo Billiards to catch up with Jeff Croft, who everyone knows I can't get enough of (in the most platonic way possible). Jeff, true to form, was a blast to hang out with.
But an even nicer surprise was meeting his roommates for the conference. I ended up having an intense discussion with Jeff Triplett about semantics and microformats. I only wish I were more sober so that I could remember the finer details.
And then the evening took a turn I could never have anticipated: I got to meet Jeremy Keith. I have admired his work for years, and much of what I know about microformats is due to him.
He was a genuinely nice guy. And didn't make me feel like an ass … because I totally acted like an ass. Gushing about how much I admired him and couldn't believe I was meeting him … blah, blah, blah. Total fangirl. Totally embarrassing the next day.
Raiding the Mini Bar
So when they announced last call at the bar, we all, including Jeff and Jeremy, decided to head back to my hotel room and hang out some more.
Keith was also staying at the Omni, so he ran up to his room and grabbed all the liquor from his mini bar and brought it to my room. Apparently, that supply wasn't enough because by the time everyone left, my mini bar was emptied as well.
Friday, March 13
The next day, I nursed my hangover and spent the morning with Chris and Phil, picking up badges, grabbing breakfast. I spent the afternoon resting and drinking copious amounts of water.
97 Bottles Happy Hour
Not only did I catch up with the wonderful Olivia Zinn and some of my favorite Blue Flavor crew members — Tiffani Jones, Nick Finck, Tom Watson — I met (albeit briefly) a bunch of folks who I follow on Twitter and who I've been dying to finally meet in person: Luke Dorny, Greg Storey and Stephen Caver.
Then my friend (and other roommate for the conference) Jason Nakai showed up, and the three ABQ geeks hit the town.
Peachpit New Riders
I'm writing a book on microformats for Peachpit, and they invited me to attend an author gathering at the Red Eyed Fly.
I have to admit I was ridiculously nervous. I was meeting my acquisitions editor, Wendy Sharp, for the first time, and I was also just nervous because I wasn't at all sure what to expect. Thankfully, Mark and Jason tagged along (and a shot of tequila did wonders for my courage).
I spoke briefly with Wendy, who was as nice in person as she was over the phone and email. And then I saw him: Jeffrey Zeldman.
At this point, I had enough liquid courage that I probably would've approached a mother lion with cubs, so I headed over and introduced myself to the man who is the reason I am obsessed with standards.
And once again, fangirl mode kicked in. And I, once again, proceeded to make a sizeable ass of myself. You think I would've learned from the previous night's embarrassment with Jeremy, but no. I didn't.
Fortunately, Jeffrey was gracious and friendly and spent a few minutes talking with me about my microformats book. I can honestly say I don't remember the details. I was too high from actually talking to him (and the tequila probably didn't help). Needless to say, the conversation was short, and I was left floating on air.
After squealing like a schoolgirl to Mark and Jason about meeting Jeffrey, the three of us headed out of the Red Eyed Fly to find other locales for partying.
On the street, we ran into Jeff Croft and his friend Morgan Holzer. We also ran into another Albuquerquean, Vincent Thome, who was wandering around with Jeff. The group of us ended up some place (can't remember the name) where I caught up with my friend Dan Rubin, who was his typically charming and self-deprecating self.
I also met Mark Bixby, who has a bit of a legend status in ABQ. And had an amazing conversation with Greg Storey, who would seriously make an excellent life coach … what a positive and encouraging person he is! Can't believe I was lucky to bend his ear for awhile.
The three ABQ geeks then went to another location … I think it was the Chuggin' Monkey, but can't be too sure thanks to the amount of alcohol coursing through my system by this point.
The rest of the night is a blur. There was more drinking. There was some dancing. There was singing to Bon Jovi. There was some "daggy bogan," courtesy of Lachlan and Lisa.
Saturday, March 14
The next day I was once again nursing a hangover (see the pattern?) and was sporting a slightly green pallor. But that morning was the one panel I was determined not to miss: Microformats, A Quiet Revolution.
I'll talk about the panel in a recap to be posted later this week. But the cool thing, other than microformats, is that Tantek Çelik invited folks to join together for lunch afterwards and get all geeky about microformats.
So, of course, I went.
I had run into Wendy at the panel, so she joined me and the other geeks at El Sol y La Luna. She and I actually spent the better part of the time talking details about the book, which was nice. I still was nervous about the whole process, so learning what to expect was just what I needed.
Then Wendy left and I sat down next to Jeremy Keith (lucky me). I was still hurting from my hangover, so I was rather inarticulate and feeling pretty retarded. Once again, leaving Jeremy with an impression of me that I would've rather not.
But it must not have been too terrible, because Jeremy then introduced me to Tantek, who I had never formally met. He was so kind and friendly, and even offered to tech edit the microformats book.
Finally, by this point, I had gotten my fangirl mode under control, so I didn't gush and embarrass myself (I think).
Back to the Convention Center
After lunch, Jeremy and I walked around the convention center a bit. Then I caught up with Chris again, who took me to the trade show floor, where I gathered as much schwag as I could for my friend James Neal, who was unable to attend SXSW this year.
Bryan was as nice as could be, and we talked a bit about the next night's Avalonstar Bowling Extravagana, for which I had volunteered. And Molly was as big of a personality and gregarious of a character as one would assume based on her blogging and twittering. Friendly, smart and funny.
Web Typography Panel
Chris and I then met up with Phil and headed over to the Hilton to catch the Web Typography panel. We killed some time beforehand in the bar with a couple of beers.
The panel was excellent, and I'll tell you more in an article to be posted later. I will say, though, that John Tan has one of the sexiest voices on the planet, made even sexier by talking about typography.
After the panel, I finally caught up with another WJS friend (and my personal connection to awesome music recommendations), Jeremy Abbott. We chatted a bit (not long enough at all).
Then I introduced my ABQ friends to my WJS friends, and all was right in the world.
But by this point, I needed some rest and a shower before the night's festivities. So I headed back to the Omni to get both.
Dinner & Frog Design
Later in the evening, I met up with Vincent, Jason and Mark at Fado for dinner. Burger, fries and a few black–and–tans later, and I was a new woman.
We all then hoofed it to the Frog Design party, which was packed. I really hate crowds and I despise them even more when they keep me from getting beer.
But at least the party was outside, with fresh air, and had some interesting "live art." But it didn't hold our attention for long. We all wanted to get to Happy Cog's karaoke event.
The four of us took a cab to the Scoot Inn and made it before it got too crowded. We ran into Tantek again, who was as gracious as the first time I met him. I also caught up with Jeff and Shara (who happens to be one of the coolest chicks I've ever met; can't wait to visit her in Austin this summer).
The karaoke was good but, to be honest, I wasn't paying the closest attention. Instead I was enjoying the socializing. I introduced myself to one of the greatest designers I know of, Jason Santa Maria, and managed to avoid the entire fangirl gushing.
Once again, I ran into Dan Rubin (I'm a seriously lucky gal) and chatted a bit. Every time I see him it puts a smile on my face. Such a nice guy.
Hotel & Scotch
Mark had left Vincent, Jason and I to go see a band, so by the end of the night it was just the three of us. We decided to head back to the Omni, where we sat at the bar and sampled some pretty decent scotch.
We then took said decent scotch up to the room, where Vincent and Jason proceeded to debate about Native American culture and beliefs, and I learned that I am a molecule. At which point I passed out.
Sunday, March 15
Sunday started off slow and easy. Jason and I headed to Austin Java for breakfast, marking the first of three days that I had eggs Benedict.
After breakfast we headed over to the convention center and met Mark and another ABQ friend, Dandee, at the Adobe Day Stage Cafe. Once sustained with a few free beers, the three of us headed over to the Facebook Garage.
I only managed about 30 minutes there, before I realized I seriously needed some more sleep and as much water as I could possibly consume. So that's what I did.
My Tarantino Moment
Jason and I had scheduled massages for that afternoon in the Omni. We were contacted by guest services that the masseuses had arrived. It was at this point I realized they intended to do the massages in our hotel room.
Now that may sound nice, but I was staying with two guys in a stuffy, slighty stinky and very messy room. No way I could enjoy a massage there.
Unfortunately, the hotel was completely booked and guest services said they didn't have any other room they could use for our massages. So I told Jason I would just cancel it. At this point, guest services asked us to give them a few minutes.
They then called back and informed us they had a room. So off we went.
Turns out, the room in question is actually the penthouse suite that Quentin Tarantino keeps on private reserve for when he is in town. When the conceierge told us this, I had visions of a suite filled with blood and guns and all sorts of movie memorabilia. How wrong I was. It was just a room.
Still, Tarantino had touched the furniture I was sitting on. Had walked the floors I stood on. And it was the best massage I'd ever had.
Wine, Cheese & Experts
Jeremy had invited me to join him and Jessica in their suite that evening for a private wine and cheese get together. So, after the massage and a shower, I headed over to the Hampton.
Yet again, Jeremy proved what a nice guy he is, making sure to introduce me to everyone and include me in the conversations. Which was a good thing, because as people started to arrive I was completely starstruck and, essentially, mute.
The only conversation of any value I managed was with Nicole Sullivan. We talked a bit about her Object Oriented CSS, a bit about microformats and a bit about writing books. I think I managed to hide my geek–girl–crush from her, but the woman is a fucking genius as far as I'm concerned.
I had earlier volunteered to help Bryan Veloso with the bowling extravaganza, but had told him the previous day that I wouldn't be able to help as I had hoped, due to the wine and cheese event. Bryan was gracious and understood. But I still planned to make it out there to help, so I left Jeremy and Jessica's soiree to meet Jason and Vincent and head to bowling.
By the time we arrived, the ABX hadn't fully "kicked off." That is to say, it wasn't even close to as crowded as I expected. And it turns out Bryan didn't need my help. So the three ABQ geeks just bowled.
My bowling skills truly shined as I closed the first game with less than a 70. I slightly redeemed myself the next two games, but I really think it is just that Vincent and Jason both sucked ass at this point.
But like all with all things I do, I just had fun. Even better than the bowling, though, I caught up with two more WJS friends, Michael Montgomery and Jason Beaird. Once again, didn't spend nearly enough time with them, but great to see their faces again.
The previous night I got a DM from Derek Featherstone that he wanted to meet me while we were both at SXSW. Earlier in the day, we had messaged about meeting at ABX, but our timing was off. So once the ABQ crew left bowling, we set out to meet up with Derek.
Once downtown, we took a slight detour to meet up with Mark and Dandee for a drink at some place that was totally ass. Seriously. The place was ass. The free beer was ass. So I got my ass out of there.
Jason joined me and we headed to the Hilton bar where I finally met Derek. We chatted for a bit but not long enough, as Jason and I had promised to meet back up with Mark and Dandee at The Gingerman. But though the chat was brief, Derek was wonderful. Friendly and charming, and I'm lucky I got to meet him in person.
I can't wait to meet him again when I'm less rushed and less drunk, because the dude is one of my heros.
The Gingerman … or Not
Jason and I discovered a horrid line outside The Gingerman by the time we got there. I really hate lines, and I really wanted a drink. So we wandered around until we found some bar and proceeded to have deep, meaningful conversations over tequila and beer.
And then we called it a night, heading back to the Omni for some much needed sleep.
Monday, March 16
Monday I woke up with a special visitor: SXSW Scurvy. Yep, I was starting to get sick. No surprise considering all the drinking and lack of sleep. But I was determined to soldier on.
Eggs Benedict & Browser Wars
Mark, Jason and I headed back to Austin Java for breakfast, where I had eggs Benedict again (day two, cholesterol rising). I seriously love this dish, but I never order it because I usually try to be a good girl. But I was truly "on vacation," plus I was sick … I needed the extra sustenance.
The three of us then headed to the conference center for the Browser Wars III panel, where Apple was noticeably missing. The panel was in full gear and quite interesting when I saw a tweet from Stephen Caver that he had just seen a preview of ExpressionEngine 2.0. I tweeted back that I was jealous, and he tweeted that there was a preview scheduled for noon.
Nothing more needed to be said. I left the Browser Wars panel in search of some EE goodness.
Lunch With EllisLab
Mark joined me in my EE quest. We found the EllisLab crew in the Hilton lobby, just getting ready to head out to lunch and an EE 2.0 preview.
I was shocked and honored when I introduced myself to Leslie Camacho (President of EllisLab), and he commented that he knew of, read and enjoyed my blog (dude must be mental).
Once I picked my jaw up off of the Hilton lobby floor, the group of us headed to the Iron Cactus for lunch and great conversation (and fantastic ceviche).
I was in pure EE heaven at this point, and we hadn't even seen the 2.0 preview yet.
After lunch, we headed back to the Hilton and split up into two groups. I was with Leslie's group, as he demonstrated the front-end changes in EE 2.0. I won't go into details here, but will post an article soon (I promise).
Then Ryan Irelan, of ExpressionEngine Screencasts and EE Insider fame, joined us. Aside from being friendly and giving me a Field Notes, there is so much to say about Ryan: he is smart as a whip (like all the Airbag crew), very tall and quite young looking.
All in all, the EE 2.0 preview was great. But what was even better was the company with Leslie, Nevin and Derek Jones. Amazingly smart guys, and I just happen to love their products/services.
I was really starting to drag at this point (not to mention I was starting to sound alot like Eartha Kitt), but there was one more panel I needed to see. So, I (sadly) left the EllisLab crew — words don't begin to describe how nice these guys are — and headed upstairs where I ran into Chris and Phil.
The three of us were hanging out when another WJS friend, Brian Artka, joined us. Brian was filming a documentary-type video of SXSW and asked if I would be interviewed.
I agreed. So he did.
I don't even remember what he asked. But I look forward to seeing if it makes it into his final cut. I was in full-on losing–my–voice mode. And it was probably me who gave him the SXSW Scurvy (sorry, Brian).
Then Chris and I headed into the panel, where we met up with fellow Albuquerquean and WaSP Educational Taskforce member, Virginia DeBolt.
Again, I won't be going into details of the panel here, but will recap in a later article. I will say, though, the WaSP Interact panel was the best I attended.
I wandered back to the hotel, all the while wondering exactly how I was going to keep any energy up for the remaining events I wanted to attend that night.
So I just showered, made myself beautiful and headed down to the hotel the bar for a drink.
Turns out, vodka is quite effective in helping one forget that one feels like shit.
Jason joined me for a bite, and then we headed to the famed British Booze-Up.
My main goal for the evening was to finally meet Ben Ward in person. And, thankfully, I did.
Ben made quite an impression as we chatted and he quadruple-fisted beers. Seriously, I loved the man before, but seeing that feat solidified him as a hero in my mind.
I also caught up with Jeff Croft again, and we talked about eggs and baskets (you had to be there, and you probably had to be drunk).
Then I saw Chris Mills and wandered over to introduce myself, since I was too shy to do it when he was at Jeremy and Jessica's wine and cheese party. Chris was as friendly as folks said he was, and I suggested he contact me in case I could do any writing for his Opera Web Standards Curriculum.
Blue Flavor SXNW party was getting closer, so Jason and I started to head out when I ran into Andy Budd. Of course, at this point, I'd had many vodkas (remember, in the interest of bolstering my immune system).
So all I managed to say to him was "You're Andy Budd!" To which he replied, "Yes!" and shook my hand. I then astutely concluded the introduction with "I have to take a piss."
Yeah, quite an impression I left.
Hotel Saint Cecilia
As Jason and I neared the SXNW party, there was another dreaded line. And I've already mentioned my feelings about lines. But I noticed my friends Shara and Rob, so I introduced them to Jason and proceeded to wait.
While waiting, I ran into Matt Oliphant again, and he introduced Jason and I to the wonderful and talented Whitney Hess.
As the four of us waited in line, Whitney and Matt decided they were going to meet some friends at their hotel for a small gathering. They graciously invited us and, since I didn't want to wait in line any longer, we joined them.
We ended up at Hotel Saint Cecilia, which was is a boutique hotel straight out of 1950s Hollywood. It was gorgeous.
We were all hanging around the pool, enjoying some good conversation and beer, when my energy dropped. So Jason and I took our leave, grabbed a cab and went back to the hotel for much needed sleep.
I wish I could've stayed longer to talk with Whitney, but between the vodka, beer and my cold, the conversation would've been seriously lacking.
Tuesday, March 17
I was feeling rather shitty by Tuesday, so all I managed to do was eat breakfast (yep, you guessed it: eggs Benedict) in the hotel with Jason and Mark. After that, I stocked up on cold medicine and went back to the hotel room where I spent the better part of the day.
By that evening, I was feeling better, so Jason and I went down to the hotel bar for food and beverage. While there, Jason turns to me and asks if I feel like getting a new tattoo.
Of course I agree. Granted, I usually like to take more time to think about my tattoos and where to get them, but it just seemed like the thing to to.
So we got a recommendation for a local shop from one of the hotel kitchen guys (via the bartender) and made appointments for that night.
After that, my SXSW experience was pretty much over, as our flight was leaving early the next morning.
From my perspective, the ink was the perfect end to it all: pain, pleasure, permanently changed.
A Great City
One part of my experience I've yet to mention is Austin itself. What a fun and funky town!
I loved that I could walk everywhere I needed to go, that there was never a lack of restaurants or bars to choose from, and that everyone was so friendly. It was like Albuquerque, but with more shit to do.
Another thing that was so cool (though I'm quite certain it had more to do with SXSW than Austin) was walking around town and hearing snippets of geek conversation. I've never been surrounded by so many of "my people" before, and I loved it.
The main thing I walked away from SXSW with was the realization that all of the people whose work I've been following for years and who I admire are just people. Granted, amazingly talented people, but just plain folks who are friendly, approachable and easy to talk to.
Another lesson I learned is that it is impossible to catch up with everyone you want to. I didn't spend nearly enough time with my WJS friends or with Olivia and Nick (both of whom I adore).
I also learned that I need to sleep more and drink less … that, or start prepping for the conference weeks in advance by drinking every night and only sleeping 4 hours at a time as Lachlan suggested.
Finally, I realized that I really want to go back next year, and I will stay longer to enjoy some of the music festivities.
As promised, I'll be writing up recaps of the panels I did manage to attend, as well as an article on my ExpressionEngine 2.0 preview.
Stay tuned! But please be patient … I started writing the book this week, so my blog posting schedule may be affected (maybe not, as I'm prone to procrastination).